The year 2016 represents the turning point where the culmination of multiple technologies (accelerometers, IR sensors, display resolution, graphics, CPU, algorithms, etc) have crossed the threshold to enable modern VR headsets to go from being merely interesting, to being a viable platform and tool for delivering new experiences, and capabilities never before seen.
When the internet first started coming into the mainstream, the first thing people did was try and do all the things that we were all already familiar with in real life, such as mailing each other and creating recipes online. However, after building the things that we already knew about, next came a wave of innovation which spawn applications that let us use the internet to do things which we could not done before the dawn of the digital age. For example, think about life before Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google Maps, and Youtube.
In a similar manner, the possibilities that VR brings is that it provides us with a tool and an interface to consume and create content in new ways. At this time, much of the software that coming out is still in its infancy of figuring out how to do things in VR, in essence we are in the ‘online recipe stage’ of doing things.
That being said, one of the problems is the virtual reality or VR is often used as a catch all term for different levels of experience. When I refer to VR, I use it in reference to the high-end headsets like the Vive which has motion tracked controllers. So why the distinction?
The biggest insight I can share is that VR is NOT about the headset. VR is about the hands.
Of course you do need a headset to make it work, but the thing that changes it from a passive experience into one that can evoke emotion and strong feelings of immersion is all in the hands. Let’s take a moment to step back and think about how do you interact and interface the world around you.
First let’s talk about our input stimulus from the world. We have our 5 senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. When we have a VR headset on, we’ve got 2 of our 5 input senses covered pretty well (sight and sound).
But how about output? Almost everything we do to interact in the world is with our hands and through touch. For example, we pick up a cup to drink, we use a keyboard to type, we use a steering wheel to drive a car, we use a hammer as a tool, we use a pen to write and we use a knob to open doors. None of our other 5 senses plays as big a role of interfacing to our world than our feeling of touch and using our hands to do things. As such, with the advent of motion tracked controllers, we now possess the technology to interface to the world in a natural way which is second nature to our brain. It is this capability that really opens the strongest possibilities for innovation and entrepreneurship.
All that being said, there are still a number of challenges and issues for VR being deployed and picked up in the mainstream:
- Cost – it’s still quite expensive to get up and running for a full VR setup where you need to get the headset as well as a full spec gaming PC with enough horsepower to handling the graphics load
- Physical Space Requirements – you need a space to set it up and use. It’s not as convenient as pulling out your mobile phone from your pocket and using the newest hottest app on the market
- Social – only one person can experience VR at a time with the headset. If there is a group of people, only one person is in the experience while the rest watch. For multiplayer experiences, each person needs their own headset and computer.
- Motion Sickness – movement and acceleration in VR can induce nausea and motion sickness if the frame rate is not high enough (90fps), or if lateral movement is simulated using a button press while the person is stationary. The use of teleportation generally eliminates the problem of motion sickness, but can limit the types of games and applications developed.
- Wireless Headsets – it’s still a little cumbersome to put on a headset with wires connected back to the main computer.